As 2013 ends, is Canada ready to compete in a world where new ideas and technologies
are the key to national prosperity
and social success? My answer, with
apologies for the contradiction, is an
optimistic ‘No’. Let me explain.
I’ve just spent eight exciting years
as president of the University of
Toronto. Thanks to countless faculty,
staff, students, volunteers, benefac-
tors, partner institutions and enter-
prises, it’s been a great run on the
R&D front. Research income is up
40%. Our total publication output is
2nd worldwide. A sharp rise in spin-
off company generation has moved U
of T to 3rd place in North America.
Our gifted faculty and students have
won hundreds of research awards.
As well, entrepreneurship is flour-
ishing, with 2/3rds of all invention
disclosures now carrying a student or
trainee as a co-inventor.
None of this would have happened
without meaningful support from our
friends in Ottawa. The lift to Canadi-
an universities and research hospitals
began when the federal government
made visionary new investments after
the recession of the 1990s. When
another recession hit fifteen years
later, a new government bravely sus-
tained those investments in the fed-
eral granting councils, the Canada
Foundation for Innovation, and the
Canada Research Chairs program. It
also initiated its own suite of smaller
but high-impact programs.
All these investments over 20 years
have enabled many Canadian universities to stem a longstanding brain
drain and attract or retain outstanding
talent. Thus, from the standpoint of
R&D excellence, it seems we might
finally have the summit surrounded. Unfortunately, many worrisome
trends suggest we are actually at risk
of sliding down the mountain, rather
than claiming the peak.
Canadian researchers are still winning big international awards, but we
haven’t seen a research-related Nobel
prize since 1994.
Canada still has the world’s most
perverse formula for offsetting the
costs of federal research grants. Small
institutions get 80 cents of indirect
cost reimbursement for each operating dollar won in granting council
competitions. But our most research-intensive institutions receive under 20
cents on the dollar. This is a major
disincentive to excellence.
Meanwhile, the proportion of blue-sky research funding by NSERC and
CIHR has been dropping as earmarking of priorities gains favour in a
misguided effort to drive short-term
wins for domestic industry.
The 2011 Jenkins panel, on which
I served, recommended a very dif-
ferent set of strategies. First, deter-
mine where the NRC’s basic research
strengths really lie, and protect its
best programs and scientists. Other-
wise, reinforce the NRC’s mandate in
industry-facing and contract-funded
research. Then, simplify the frame-
work for SRED credits, and invest
the resultant savings to do two things:
Rebuild the role of the granting coun-
cils as globally-competitive engines
for investigator-initiated basic and
applied research. And make targeted
direct investments in industry-friend-
In fairness, Ottawa has taken
some of these steps, but stakeholders
remain unsettled by the lack of an
Other countries, however, are driving forward with clarity and conviction to boost international R&D
competitiveness. Germany’s Excellence Initiative has focused billions
of Euros on 39 universities out of
390. China has invested massively
to raise the research standards of 100
universities, 40 of which will receive
special funding to reach world-class
levels. Again, note the math: that’s
100 universities out of nearly 2500.
Among many other examples,
there’s France’s plan to spend an
additional € 19 billion on higher education and advanced research, and
excellence-boosting R&D investments in jurisdictions ranging from
Brazil to Singapore.
These new initiatives strengthen
research universities as a side-effect.
They are driven primarily by broader
policy objectives, i.e.:
• Ensuring international competitiveness in talent attraction, retention and
• Supporting breakthrough discoveries that inspire the next generation
• Fostering disruptive as well as
incremental innovations that create
RESEARCH AND INNOVATION:
Are We Going for the Summit or Slip-sliding Away?
University of Toronto
Continued on page 18
Canada’s leader in high-impact
The University of Calgary is strategically
located at the core of Canada’s multi-billion-
dollar energy industry, giving us a unique
opportunity and responsibility to take the lead
in addressing the challenges associated with
ensuring safe, clean and secure energy supplies
for society. In September 2013, we released
our Energy Research Strategy, a blueprint
for building a global hub for the discovery, creativity and innovation in energy
research the world so urgently needs.
Energy research at the University of Calgary will help ensure a future that
balances supply and demand, in a context of responsible resource development
that addresses social, human, environmental and economic constraints. We have
already created focused energy research centres, developed infrastructure to
support energy research, and attracted some of the best minds in the energy field.
An interdisciplinary ‘confederation of scholars’ on campus is actively advancing
high-impact energy research on both local and global scales.
By 2035, the world will require energy at a level 1. 5 times
greater than in 2010. Meeting this demand calls for innovative
research if future generations are to enjoy sustained prosperity
with minimal environmental impact.
Learn more about how the University of Calgary is investing in and
delivering world-leading research results and technological innovation
to achieve lasting economic and environmental benefits for Canada.
View the complete Energy Research Strategy document online at
Energy Innovations for
Today and Tomorrow
Energy Research Strategy